Canadians demand change for polling stations, electoral system

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer holds up his ballot after marking his choice at a polling station in his riding in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada October 21, 2019. Adrian Wyld/Pool via REUTERS

The election may be over but according to some Canadians, there’s still much left to be done when it comes to the administrative side of things. Voters took to Twitter to express their feelings on how things work when it comes to casting a vote. Yahoo Canada spoke to several political science experts about the likelihood of things changing by next election.

Electoral reform

Some Canadians are frustrated with the country’s first-past-the-post system, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau once promised to end. Allan Tupper, a professor of political science at the University of British Columbia, says the issue is an impediment for governments to pursue. In B.C., for example, there’s been three referendums on the issue, yet votes continue to choose the first-past-the-post system for provincial elections.

“There’s a lot of people who see some problems with the status quo and they’ve been noted for a long time,” he tells Yahoo Canada News. “But when they get the opportunity to change it, they don’t. And there’s been no single alternative.”

Peggy Nash, a former Member of Parliament, says that unless Canadians are involved in the issue of proportional representation, most people see electoral reform as being too complicated.

“If the status quo is working okay, maybe they think they shouldn’t opt for change,” she says.

Nash stresses that it wouldn’t be too complicated to shift electoral protocol and uses New Zealand as an example of a country that successfully moved from a British parliamentary system to one that was proportionally representative.

“They did it for a trial period and then decided to make it a permanent thing,” she says.


B.C. polls

Coordinating the tallying of polls across different time zones and timing the release of results is a long-standing issue in the country.

“I don’t know how they can really stop this issue, particularly the way people communicate and the availability of things online other than to make a complete prohibition on results to be released until the end of voting in B.C.,” says Tupper.

Previously, there was a blackout period on publishing results of the election until after the B.C. polls had closed. Section 329 of the Canada Elections Act read: “No person shall transmit the result or purported result of the vote in an electoral district to the public in another electoral district before the close of all of the polling stations in that other electoral district.”

But in 2012, this act was repealed. With the advent of Twitter and Facebook, the act was deemed “unenforceable” and media outlets began reporting polling results as soon as they were counted from the first ridings.

Accessibility

Some people took to Twitter to vent their frustration with how polling stations were run. There were complaints of slow-moving lines, lack of accessibility for those with disabilities and lack of signage. While Tupper isn’t familiar with the specifics on Election Canada’s protocol for accessibility, he says some polling station appeared to attempt to meet the standards. The poll he visited, which was located in a modern building, had signage that detailed how it met accessibility standards.


“I think Elections Canada has become more effective in promoting voting and in urging different groups to vote,” he says. “You have to have the means to do that but they’ve been much more open to experimentation,” he says.

Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, says Canada is one of the easiest places to vote, and is often used as an example for other countries.

“Canada has as many polling stations as the United States does, and we are one tenth the population,” he says. “Very few people have to go more than a block or two to cast a ballot. Elections Canada has made a point that all its polling stations are made accessible.”

In an email to Yahoo Canada News, Diane Benson with Elections Canada says that there are accessibility criteria returning officers must follow when choosing polling locations and voter cards that are sent to electors show that a site is accessible. In the rare instance that there is an issue, voters with accessibility issues can be transferred to a nearby accessible station. There are also accessibility feedback forms at the site and on the Elections Canada website.

Elections Canada consults with disability groups and use the feedback forms to better understand needs and improve services.